Friday, February 5, 2010
The Electric Feather
The Tranquebar Collection of Erotic Short Stories
Edited by Ruchir Joshi
At the outset, a collection of Erotic Short stories from the subcontinent had me interested and not just because of the erotic part of the subtitle. The short story format is one that interests me, the idea of narrating an entire event, creating characters that the reader can identify with and feel for within the limited perimeter of a short story is an art which few writers are able to achieve with any success. O Henry being one of the exalted few who have. And W Somerset Maugham. And another of my personal favourites, and paradoxically radically different from the genteel writing of the previous two authors mentioned, Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn. And of course, my personal God, Pelham G Wodehouse, who had a mastery over the short story and the intricate maneouvres of a detailed novel level plot which is unparalleled.
Which meant I had high standards in my head for this compilation. Which also naturally meant I would have to face a let down. Starting with the very first story. The phrase Erotic to me is delicate, nuanced writing which is not sexually explicit but sexually charged. It might mean something different for another. To me, sexual explicitness degenerates into porn. Erotica is tantalising, not all revealing. For the Bad Sex in Literature award this compilation has more than enough contenders. But let me focus on the saving graces within the book. The story that was truly superlative in the entire compilation was Kamila Shamsie's Love's Sunset, the seduction of the primal woman by the Sun. Sheba Karim's gentle story of a girl down on vacation, and infatuated by her aunt was subtly nuanced and written with the kind of restraint that makes writing superlative. Niven Govindan's story about a pair of gay lovers in Amsterdam, who are bound to each by a painful bond of hurting and pleasure makes for fascinating reading. Sonia Jabbar's The Advocate is perhaps the only story that stays closest to the premise of the short story with a definite narrative, and written with empathy and where the sex in the story does not seem gratuitiously chucked in to make it to the mandatory requirement of the compilation. Tishani Doshi and Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy are the other new writers who have contributed to this compilation, as has Rana Dasgupta and Abeer Haque. Sadly though, for a compilation of short stories from a land which has given us the Kamasutra and the love poems of Geet Govinda, The Electric Feather does seem like a good intention that lost its way, and doesnt quite make it to the Brindavan of the preface.
By Kiran Manral